Cracking the Metabolic Code
by James LaValle, R.Ph. C.C.N. N.D.

Pollution can affect our metabolism. Many heavy metals that get into our environment from industry and certain pesticides are known endocrine disrupters which means they can interfere with the ability of hormones like thyroid and estrogen to function properly. The liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and lymph system all have mechanisms by which to eliminate toxic substances from the body but with the excessive amount of chemicals in indoor and outdoor environments, our organs can become overwhelmed. By supporting the organs of detoxification, especially the primary organ of detoxification, the liver, we can improve the body's capacity to deal effectively with toxins and thereby improve our overall health and even our metabolism.

The liver removes toxic and metabolic waste products from the body by converting them to water soluble compounds that can be excreted in the urine through processes known as Phase One and Phase Two detoxification. Substances that are not water soluble are transformed by the liver and excreted in the bile. Toxins not completely removed by either one of these processes may be eliminated through the skin or lungs. Toxins that remain in the body accumulate in the adipose (fat) tissue and nerve cells, and can contribute to a wide range of degenerative diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

If the liver does not receive the necessary nutrients to support phase one and two detoxification, it cannot do its job. Many of the nutrients that support these functions like adequate protein, zinc, selenium, vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid are available through foods, but are needed in greater quantities than typically are obtained in the diet. Supplementation can be of tremendous value in making sure you get adequate quantities of these nutrients.

Here are some of the important nutrients and other supplements that supply what the liver needs to help rid the body of toxins. Glutathione, a large antioxidant molecule that is the primary detoxification substance in the liverattaches to toxic compounds and changes them, enabling the body to excrete them. Because glutathione is a large molecule it cannot be absorbed into the body if taken orally. So measures must be taken to help the body make its own glutathione. The following substances either help the body make glutathione or help restore the antioxidant capacity of glutathione.

Vitamin C, a water soluble antioxidant helps to limit damage to the body from free radicals and recycles other antioxidants such as glutathione, and vitamin E. Vitamin C in a dose of 500 mg. per day has been found to raise glutathione levels in the blood by 50 percent. Vitamin C also has the ability to help the body eliminate heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel.

Selenium, a trace mineral is cofactor for the production of glutathione peroxidase, a form of glutathione that prevents lipid peroxidation. Supplementing with .03 mg of selenium per kilogram of body weight was found in studies to significantly stimulate glutathione peroxidase production. Selenium, known to help enhance the actions of zinc and vitamin E in the body, assists in the detoxification of heavy metals by enhancing the activity of lymphocytes and macrophages.

SAM-e (s-adenosylmethionine), a metabolite of the amino acid methionine is best known for its role in depression and arthritis. However, SAM-e also promotes glutathione production in the liver and therefore enhances phase two detoxification. Be sure to take a multivitamin, if taking SAM-e, as a source of the vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid to reduce the chance of forming homocysteine.

Zinc is an important mineral for the functioning of superoxidedismutase, an enzyme which protects against free radical damage in the body. It also works as a cofactor for alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme in the liver that detoxifies alcohols.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a sulfur containing amino acid stimulates production of glutathione. It is often used to help fight viruses and to catalyze detoxification of heavy metals, pesticides, tobacco smoke, and exhaust emissions by improving phase two detoxification. NAC also exerts a protective effect in kidney tissue, which is prone to heavy metal damage.

In addition to these supplements, the herbs milk thistle and artichoke extract exert protective and healing capacity to liver tissue itself. Other over-the-counter products that have a known ability to remove heavy metals are the amino acid DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid), the herb cilantro, garlic, and an algae called chlorella. Lab tests are available to evaluate your heavy metal status and your liver function, and for serious cases, prescription I.V.'s of chelating agents like EDTA and D penacillamine are available through health care professionals to detoxify the body of health-robbing heavy metals.

James B. LaValle is the co-athor along with Stacy Lundin Yale, R.N., BSN of the new book, Cracking the Metabolic Code (Basic Health; 2004; $17.95)